Last weekend showcased the premiere of Standfilm and our last stop on the tour was Tofino, B.C. I managed to sneak in a sweet Long Beach Paddle Surf before a sup skills clinic set up by Catherine Bruhwiler at Tofino Paddle Surf. We had great turnout under sunny hot skies and spent a couple of hours working on forward strokes and turns. Thanks to the locals and people who came out to take the clinic. That evening we had the premiere and the following day we got ready for our Vargas Island sup expedition. Catherine and I had talked about doing a sup trip around Vargas Island with hopes of offering the trip to clients later in the summer. I have guided a number of kayak trips around Vargas Island an knew it would be the ideal location to offer standup paddleboard trips. White sand beaches, wildlife and some great surf breaks are all part of the Vargas Island experience. This trip also offers guests the chance for a true coastal experience as the west side of the island is exposed to the full power of the North Pacific.
We spent most of the afternoon on Day 1 packing up our gear and getting ready for the trip. There would be four of us on this trip, Catherine, myself, Pascale, a Tofino local and owner of Live to Surf and Coastal Bliss Yoga, and Zak, a writer and guide from Comox, B.C. We all had touring boards for this mission. Catherine was paddling a 14′ Ace Carbon, Zak was on a 14′ Carbon Touring board, Pascal had a 14′ Surftech Coast Runner and I was on my trusty 12’6″ Boardworks Raven. We would be self sufficient on this tour so we had our big packs loaded up with everything we would need. I managed to get all of my gear into a 75L MEC Slogg pack. This has been my go to pack for all of my expeditions including my Great Bear SUP Expedition. Zak had the food bag on the back of his touring board.
The west coast always has a way of throwing something at you to make things interesting and as we were packing, a thick fog usually seen in August here with the nice days came in quick and closed out our short crossing from Tofino to Vargas. Our goal today was to get to the top end of Vargas starting along the east side and camp on Dick and Jane’s beach, a beautiful beach that would give us great views of the setting sun. We managed to get out of Tofino and make our way through the fog with a flooding current and light wind that pushed us to the east side of Vargas. Once we made our crossing the fog cleared as the heat of the island dissipated the fog as it came across. We spent the next couple of hours paddling in stunning conditions with amazing views of Lone Cone, Catface Mountain and the snow capped peaks of Strathcona Provincial park in the distance. It took us a comfortable three hours with a good tide to get to Dick and Jane’s. Once there we set up camp on the edge of the thick fog and enjoyed a beautiful evening with an incredible sunset that lit up the mountains in fuschia. I always enjoy the feelings of remoteness and singular focus that paddling on our coast provides.
We had a pretty good sleep in and I was happy to catch up on some rest after a busy premiere weekend. I was expecting the fog to be set in but we awoke to a low, uniform, cloud cover that brought with it a south wind that we would not have to deal with until we rounded the top end of Vargas and onto the west side. A well know guiding philosophy on our coast is to “get on the water early and get off early,” a rule of thumb that allows you to cover ground before the daytime winds start to pick up. Traveling on the open west coast, especially by sup is no joke and you always have to be on. Disregarding my natural instincts, we spent a lazy morning on the beach. The girls did some yoga while I surfed the knee high waves that were breaking. Zak and I also met Jane, the beaches namesake at the beautiful west coast cabin located in the corner of the beach. Jane had made her way back to the cabin after a number of years living in other locations on the coast. Dick and Jane set up shop here 30 years ago because they enjoyed surfing. Dick has passed but Jane shared some great stories of what life was like here years ago. We finally got going around 2 pm (haha) and made our way to the west side. As we rounded the top end we were met with rough ocean conditions and a stiff south wind that hampered our progress. I enjoyed the ruggedness and rawness of the west side and was happy to be paddling in “training conditions.” The loaded Raven was handling the conditions really well. We slogged south against the wind and crossed the large expanse of Ahous bay, not before having a break in a quiet calm cove. We finally made it to the south end of Ahous where we stopped at a beautiful protected beach for lunch.
Whenever your traveling by sup, you always have to using the terrain to help you with travel. Shorelines, points, islands all can help you to get out of the wind and current or can be used to compliment your travel. I am always looking for ways to work smarter and not harder and I enjoy the puzzle of route finding on a SUP that the ocean provides. It took us 2 hours to get to the south end of Ahous bay and another 1.5 hrs to get through an island rock field on our way to Medallion beach on the southwest corner of Vargas. We set up our camp after a day paddling against the wind. Zak and Cat set up a fire while Pascale and I went to harvest some mussels. We had a delicious dinner of Miso Soup and west coast mussels expertly prepared by Zak. The mussels were so good!! I love the fact that you can still harvest food right off the beach. If you know what your looking for you will never go hungry on our coast. Vargas Island is also well know for their wolves and while Pascale and I were harvesting a wolf made an appearance quite close to where we were gathering. Pascale and I did not see the wolf but Zak and Catherine did. These wolves have become too conditioned to campers and kayakers so they did their best to scare the wolf away. We would not see it again but we were pretty sure they visited us later in the night as we woke to a lot of wolf prints encircling our tents. Some animal, most likely a wolf, picked up a pelican case that I had and carried it down the beach. It’s so important to keep a clean campsite and use the food caches that are provided by the parks. Catherine’s brother Frank, is a park warden here and has had to deal with a lot of wolf issues on Vargas, most not so good. The saying goes ” a fed bear is a dead bear.” Same for wolves. We loaded up the fire to keep the wildlife away(or so we thought) and headed to bed.
We woke on our last morning and started a fire with the burning embers of the last nights fire. Pascale made a great breakfast before we got packed up for our last leg to Tofino. We got on the water around 10:30 am so we could pick up the strong flood current that would push us all the way to the top end of Stubbs Island. We passed a Gray Whale hanging out in the strong, turbulent current. Gray’s call this area home and Jane had even talked about all of the Gray’s that used to hang out at Dick and Jane’s beach before tourism pushed them to more remote locations. We used the strong current and south wind at our backs to push us quickly home. We got to the east side of Stubbs and into calm water, a couple of easy channel crossings brought us back to Tofino. It took us 1.5 hrs to get from Medallion to Tofino. We hauled our gear up to the trucks and quickly headed to Tuff Beans for a well deserved breakfast and a hot Americano. This was a super fun trip with great people. A big cheers goes to Pascale who did not have a lot of experience but used her quickly improving sup skills to battle against the winds and take on the challenge of a 3 day trip. Her energy was amazing and she was a real joy to paddle with. Thanks for the yoga class “for stiff guys.” Big thanks to Zak who looked after the food and who made some delicious meals. Nice to have another bro to balance the females, haha. Thanks to Catherine whose knowledge and local experience was incredibly valuable. Cat and I are really excited to offer this trip later in the season. What a place to paddle. I can’t wait to get back. The trip was 31 Km’s with 7 hours of paddling. A trip like this can be done in one long day, 2- 3 days or week long if you decide to set up a base camp and explore other great beaches and islands.